"I really believe that this happened for a reason," Eric confessed. "I'm supposed to do great things." Sure enough, after a life-changing injury, the former football star's gone on to change more lives than his own.
Up until 2010, Eric LeGrand seemingly had it all. He was on top of the world, a star both on and off the field. But in the blink of an eye, all of that changed. Everything he'd once built had gone crumbling.
"I said this is it my life is over." A brutal on-field collision left the athlete fighting for his life, forcing him to say goodbye to the one thing he loved most. But after having his world come crashing down, Eric LeGrand went on to build another. Here's his remarkable story.
To the naked eye, Eric LeGrand was practically destined to be an athlete. Growing up in Avenel, New Jersey, the young boy was a force to be reckoned with. "Always had giant hands ready to grab something," he joked of his large frame. But that's not the only reason he stood out.
Sure, Eric's hands may have been "giant," but his personality was even bigger. It didn't matter if he was having an off-day, that signature smile was always plastered on his face. But in only a matter of time, that same optimism would be put to the test like never before.
The Start of His Football Career
As the years continued to pass, Eric's height wasn't the only thing that grew. His love for sports - football, specifically - had become undeniable. And by the time he started his time at Colonia High School? He couldn't wait to make his way onto the field. Safe to say, no one was prepared for "the beast" that was Eric LeGrand.
That's exactly what spectators began to call him, as the star athlete continued to amaze the audience. Perhaps that's why it wasn't long before LeGrand was invited - urged - to join Colonia's football team. After signing on as a four-year starter, there was officially no getting in his way.
He's Always "Believed"
Eric LeGrand was unstoppable; Anyone could've seen that much. But the truth was that the strength he exuded on the field, was just as evident within. In fact, the charismatic teen lived each and every day with one word at the front of his mind: "Believe."
"Attitude is everything," as he proudly put it. And by the time Eric reached his senior year, he adopted a ritual to remind him exactly that. "I used to always hit the 'E, L, [letters]'" LeGrand revealed of the "Believe" plaque plastered on his locker room wall.
His Time on the Field
With 115 tackles and 12 touchdowns his senior year alone, LeGrand was going places - there was no doubt about it. And you can bet people took notice. Even the High School scouting organizations were amazed, ranking him as the #21 top middle linebacker prospect.
But as he continued to chase after his dream of playing pro, Eric was soon met with a wake-up call. He had to make a decision about his future. What would it look like, exactly? With the stakes only growing by the day, he had to sit down and face the facts.
Planning for College
Eric was 18-years-old, and his senior year would be coming to an end in only a matter of months. But as graduation day continued inching closer, so did a scary realization: What next? Where would the football star go to school once he said goodbye to Colonia High's halls?
He was feeling the pressure from every direction, with a whole lot to consider before his next four years of higher education. The truth? Eric LeGrand's entire career was at stake, lying in the hands of his future school. So, which college would help propel his promising football career?
Becoming a Scarlet Knight
Eric was at a standstill. Should he travel out West in the hopes of a better option? Or perhaps would he head down South and see what offers he could find there? As the story goes, he actually did... neither. After endless deliberation, the torn student had finally made up his mind.
He wasn't going anywhere - not yet, at least. He was going to stay exactly where he was, in his familiar New Jersey stomping grounds. Little did Eric LeGrand know, his time at Rutgers University would change his life in more ways than he could've ever imagined.
He Stole the Show
Sure, he may have only been a freshman. But in 2008, as LeGrand joined Rutger's football team - the Scarlet Knights - Coach Greg Schiano was instantly impressed. And you can bet he wasted no time getting Eric out onto the field. As for the events that followed?
He stole the show, and then some. "He was our leading player on our kickoff team," Schiano explained. Standing at 6'2" and about 275 pounds, there was no getting in Eric LeGrand's way. Perhaps that's why he saw a whole lot of playing time, including a legendary win against North Carolina State.
His Sophomore Success
What came next was nothing but greatness. Eric was leading Rutgers to victory, time and time again. And by the time his sophomore year came rolling around? So did more playing time - in all of the season's 13 games, to be exact. It was truly a sight to be seen.
Coach Schiano bringing Eric on as a defensive lineman was a game-changer - literally. With 33 total defensive tackles that year, LeGrand was certainly living up to his "beast" title. There was something special about him, that much Schiano was sure of. And he was right.
He Continued To Thrive
As the story should have gone, 2010 was supposed to be Eric's year. His time to shine. And the bitter truth is that it likely would have been: Eric LeGrand was going to be a star, as Coach Schiano would have happily reminded us. Unfortunately, fate had other plans.
But we're not there just yet. And in the months that followed, the Scarlet Knights' lineman continued to cement his reign. He was undefeated. But in a matter of mere months, all of that was about to change. If only LeGrand knew then what we know now.
The Game That Changed Everything
On October 16, 2010, as Eric LeGrand walked into MetLife Stadium, he had no idea he'd never leave the field the same. Then again, how could he have predicted the chaos headed his way? It was a perfect night for football, partly cloudy, with a slight chill in the air. But there was also a dark cloud, looming overhead.
Everything started out smoothly. The Knights' game against Army had placed them at a 3-2 start, with Eric feeling hopeful about their odds. Unfortunately, that wouldn't last long. "There was 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter," he recalled of the moment when everything changed.
He Came Charging Down the Field
It should have been a typical play. "I'm running down on the field, I'm going down there to make a tackle," LeGrand recalled of the events that followed. "Just like I've done hundreds of times before." Only this time would be different, as he was about to find out.
"I remember I took the kickoff return… I was heading down, and I saw that he was free," Army slotback Malcolm Brown recalled as he watched a 270-pound LeGrand charging his way. A great open-field hit by Eric LeGrand! broadcasters applauded, as he began to tackle Brown down to the ground.
It all happened so fast: Eric pummeling down the field, Brown moving his shoulder to avoid the blow, the sudden stillness that followed. "I knew something was wrong at that point," Malcolm revealed, as he watched the 6'2" lineman suddenly sprawled beside him.
"I just remember I got hit to the ground and he was on the ground pretty much laying right next to me," Brown explained. Their collision was brutal. But the truth was that it was so much worse than that. And after crashing his head into Brown's shoulder blade, Eric's life would sadly never be the same.
Eric Was Motionless
"Am I going to die right now? I can't breathe. I can't breathe," LeGrand recalled of the thoughts going through his mind. "Alright, alright. Let's try to get up." Nothing. "Try to breathe. Lord, take me at ease." What was happening? Why couldn't he move? And why was everything so blurred?
Spectators were just as confused, as they watched the motionless athlete laying on the ground. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. And fans and medics alike were left scrambling for answers. As for Eric? "Everything went silent -slow motion... and then I just blacked out."
The Next Thing He Remembered
After being rushed to Hackensack University Medical Center, Eric's family was eventually met with good news: Surgery was over. But that didn't make it any less scary. "I saw a bunch of lights, and my heart was pounding heavy ... bump, bump ... bump, bump," Eric recalled as he woke up in a strange hospital bed.
As he watched the doctors and nurses chatter by his bedside, it was almost like he was still dreaming. "It sounded like they were speaking a different language," LeGrand, still clad in his football uniform, recalled. "He didn't really know what was going on," his mother, Karen, explained.
He Received Devastating News
What was going on? The facts were obvious: Eric had suffered a brutal collision, one resulting in a severe injury. But what exactly would that call for? Unfortunately, as doctors began to fill in the missing gaps, the LeGrand family was met with devastating news.
For starters, Eric had broken his C3-C4 vertebrae. But it was the words that followed that left him numb: He was paralyzed from the neck down. "[They] told me I'd never be able to come off the ventilator, never be able to eat solid foods, never be able to walk again - never be able to live a normal life."
His Coach Stepped In
It was devastating, and then some. Only Eric LeGrand's nightmare was just getting started. The truth? He had a long road to recovery ahead of him. But while friends and family continued to rally by his side, there was one face in particular who stood out from the rest.
"Coach Schiano... stepped in, he became part of the family," Eric's sister revealed. Each day, he'd make the long drive up to Hackensack to stay with LeGrand during the wee hours of the night. "He said when he was recruiting that he takes us in like we're his sons… and that's what he did," Eric gushed.
Eric Made Progress
Eric was a fighter, there was no doubt about it. And it wasn't long before he proved just that with his miraculous improvement. First, it was his ability to feel sensation in his shoulders - just 6 days after surgery. Next? He was able to shift his neck. It was remarkable.
"That little spark of movement has been fuel that keeps pushing me forward," Eric confessed. But by Thanksgiving, he was given even more fuel. "They said I'd last one minute," he recalled of asking doctors to take him off ventilators. To their amazement? He lasted 1 1/2 hours. "The doctors don't know Eric," Karen LeGrand gushed.
His Rehab Journey
At about the same time, Eric was moved to the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. As one of the leading centers for spinal-chord rehabilitation, LeGrand's reality was looking up. But not only thanks to the medical professionals on site: He also had himself to thank.
Despite the odds stacked against him, the paralyzed athlete was determined to make a change. And that's exactly what he did. By July 2011, he'd regained some movement in both his arms and shoulders. But that's not all. He was also able to stand upright in therapy. "Standing tall, we can't fall," he gushed of the feat.
His Return To the Field
On a snowy day in October, as Eric continued his road to recovery, his path led him somewhere special: To the place where everything had first begun. "It was a moment I'll never forget," LeGrand confessed as he made his way back to SHI Stadium, with his #52 jersey on full display.
But as he led the Scarlet Knights out to field in their game against West Virginia, even he couldn't have predicted the madness that'd ensure. "The fans cheered and shouted at my return, showing nothing but love and support," he gushed of the moment, dubbed Sports Illustrated's 2011 'Moment of the Year.' "I'll never forget [it]."
He Was Drafted To the NFL
But fast forward to 2012, and Eric rang in his biggest milestone yet - all thanks to Coach Greg Schiano. As the former Rutgers coach signed on to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he had big plans. First up on his list? To make Eric's life-long dream a reality.
On May 2, 2012, as the Buccaneers announced their final draft pick, Eric's life would never be the same. "Dreams do come true," he gushed of officially going pro as their latest free agent. Yes, the decision was purely symbolic. No, there was no financial payout. But you can bet the news took the sports world by storm.
Eric Finished His Degree
LeGrand's dream of making it pro wasn't the only one that soon became his reality. Back in 2010, Eric's degree had been put on hold, with his attention poured into rehabilitation. But by the time 2014 came rolling around? All of that had officially changed.
"Getting that degree was very, very special to me," he revealed after heading back to school. Sure, "It wasn't easy. I could have given up on it after my injury, and no one would have blamed me," as LeGrand himself put it. "But I wanted that diploma on my wall."
Malcolm Brown Speaks Out
As that fateful October date continues to become a distant memory, there's one person who still remembers it like it was yesterday. After all, Eric LeGrand wasn't the only one whose life was changed the very moment he came barreling towards Malcolm Brown.
"The hit is always going to remain in my mind at all times," Brown confessed. "I was just questioning how did this happen and, 'Oh, it could have been me...' or, 'It should have been me, honestly.'" But despite the blow, LeGrand has no hard feelings. In fact, the two have even met on several occasions since.
Eric Wants To Help Shawn Bradley
Unfortunately, the truth is that injuries during a game are common. But for Shawn Bradley? The former NBA star's tragic accident actually happened off of the court. After being struck by a car in January 2021, he was left to face a traumatic new reality: He'd never be able to walk again.
It was a tragic nightmare, one LeGrand knew all too well. "When you suffer something like this... it flips and turns your life upside down," Eric explained to the pro-athlete. "As time starts to go on, you start to realize, 'OK, this is my new life... I can still make a difference.' And that's why I want to offer whatever I can."
He Won Several Awards
Eric's journey has captivated the nation, and with good reason. Throughout his entire ride, that contagious smile of his hasn't left his face. And it's earned him endless admiration, including his very own accolades: Both the WWE Warrior Award as well as the Jimmy V ESPY's Award.
"It is an absolute honor," LeGrand gushed of the recognition. "I am proud to continue to be an example of strength for people everywhere." From his incredible determination to his honorable mentions, Eric LeGrand's legacy is bound to live on forever.
His 'Team LeGrand' Charity
Safe to say, Eric's been a source of inspiration for many. But his giving ways actually go far beyond words of encouragement. The truth? In reshaping his entire life, he's also changed the lives of others - through his very own fundraiser, Team LeGrand.
"I believe Christopher Reeve started something, and I'm supposed to finish it," Eric explained of the charity, an arm of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. Dedicated to supporting sufferers of spinal-chord injuries, his self-titled charity has raised over $1 million over the years.
He's Opening a Handicap Accessible Hotspot
With endless awards and his very own charity under his belt, LeGrand doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Sure, it hasn't been easy, but that doesn't matter. To Eric? His newfound purpose in life is to make a difference - and his latest business venture has done exactly that.
"My hometown has a huge place in my heart, they've always supported me," Eric said of his upcoming cafe, LeGrand Coffee House - located in his hometown. But the handicap-accessible shop is so much more than just a coffee shop. "It is a reminder that we can accomplish anything if we set our heart [&] mind [to it]," Eric put it.
"Let's just say that this decade did not start out the way I thought it would," Eric revealed. Sure enough, after fracturing his C3-C4 vertebrae, his life has never been the same. But in starting over, he's managed to fulfill all of his dreams - and then some. Which brings us to our final question: What's next? Where is he now?
Exactly where he wants to be. Fast forward to today, and Eric is continuing to defy all odds. From sports broadcasting to speaking engagements around the country to his very own web series, Eric LeGrand is a man on the move. And we can't wait to see where his next steps take him.
Feeling Grateful for Everything
There's no doubt about it, Eric LeGrand has seen more highs and more lows than we'll probably ever understand. But the truth? He wouldn't want it any other way. "It's crazy to say… but I'm thankful for my situation," the former athlete confessed of his wild ride.
"I'm thankful for life, I'm thankful for sitting, breathing here today, being able to eat… being able to be with my family," he proudly explained. He may have suffered a devastating loss during that football game, but Eric LeGrand is officially a champion at life.
"Never Accept a 'Satisfying' Life"
As Eric once put it, "never accept a 'satisfying' life." Safe to say, the inspiring champ has certainly lived by those words. In the span of over a decade, we watched him go from tragedy to triumph, as he opted for the road less traveled. And perhaps many of us could learn a thing or two from him.
"You gotta look at adversity face on," as LeGrand explained. "And when I do rise from this chair? I'm gonna go back out to the field right where I got hurt. I'm gonna lay right back in that position, get up and walk off that field and say: 'I finished that play.'"